Monday, April 26, 2010

Ohio Supreme Court Removes Judge from Alleged Serial Killer's Trial

The Ohio Supreme Court has removed Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold from presiding over the case of Cleveland serial killer suspect Anthony Sowell. Attorneys for Sowell accused Judge Saffold of bias as a result of postings about Sowell and one of the defense lawyers on the Cleveland Plain Dealer website.

On April 13th I wrote on this site:

As difficult as it is to believe "commentgate" is becoming more sensational than the actual trial of a serial killer. Anthony Sowell a 50-year-old Clevelander, is accused of killing 11 women whose bodies were found at his home last fall.
The Plain Dealer reported in March that more than 80 comments had been made on -- an online affiliate of the newspaper -- by someone using an account set up with an e-mail address used by Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold.

According to CNN, a petition to the Ohio Supreme Court filed by Sowell's attorneys alleged that Saffold had "improper," ex parte conversations with the former judge on the case, Timothy McGinty, and a newspaper reporter from The Cleveland Plain Dealer. They also said that e-mails from the judge's personal and office accounts allegedly were sources of information for a March 26 Plain Dealer article and that the judge has a financial interest in the case because she and her daughter have sued the newspaper over the apparent use of her e-mails as sourcing for that article.

Safford responded by insisting she harbors no bias in the case and denying she had any improper conversations about it with others. She also said her civil suit against the newspaper has nothing to do with the case against the defendant.

Acting Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul E. Pfeifer disqualified Saffold within days of the petition. Justice Pfeiffer found, "When the case becomes about the judge rather than the facts of the case and the law, it is time for the judge to step aside." Judge Saffold had refused two prior requests to recuse herself.

CNN reported that, "Although Judge Saffold denied that she was the source of these online comments, she has admitted that the comments originated from the online account shared by her and members of her family and that the comments were posted by her daughter," Pfeifer said in his ruling.

He said the "unfortunate postings" impede Saffold's ability to resolve legal issues in the case that would appear to be objective and fair. Pfeifer wrote further, "disqualification is appropriate where the public's confidence in the integrity of the judicial system is at stake."

Sowell's case has been reassigned to Judge Dick Ambrose a former linebacker for the Cleveland Browns.

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